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Can a line in the sand be drawn under Hollywood’s desert disasters? Writes TOM LEONARD

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Gigantic, majestic, awe-inspiring: the critics have run out of adjectives to describe the new sci-fi blockbuster that thunders inexorably across space to our screens.

And that’s entirely fitting, because Dune is all about epic expanses: a vast intergalactic realm with monstrous spaceships, sandworms the size of ocean liners, and a sprawling plot through a series of novels spanning tens of thousands of years.

Unsurprisingly, powerful filmmakers have spent decades looking at the best-selling novel in the history of sci-fi and despair.

Pictured, Sting who appeared in the 1984 adaptation of Dune, directed by David Lynch

The original 1965 tome by American author Frank Herbert has confused the efforts of filmmakers from Ridley Scott to David Lynch, whose cinematic visions — with huge budgets and lavish casts, including Sting, Mick Jagger, and even Salvador Dali — don’t match. managed to get it off the launch pad or implode horribly into space.

Dune was written off as “unfilmable” – but that’s what people said about The Lord Of The Rings, which went on to become one of the biggest Hollywood money spinners of all time.

Now it seems that the modern marvels of CGI (computer-generated imagery) have finally made even Dune ‘doable’.

A new big-budget spectacle starring millennial pin-up Timothee Chalamet and directed by Oscar-nominated Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve is set to release in the UK next month.

The film, which is said to cost £120 million, also features Charlotte Rampling as the reverend mother of an order of mystical nuns, young American beauty Zendaya (who prefers not to use her last name, Coleman), Josh Brolin, Spanish actor Javier. Bardem and Mission Impossible star Rebecca Ferguson.

Villeneuve has already made two clever and successful sci-fi films, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. Now he has tried to solve the enormous density of Dune (the book is about 500 pages) by dividing it into two films.

Based on the stunned judgment of many of those who saw the premiere episode at the Venice International Film Festival last week, it appears he has finally achieved what many in Hollywood thought were impossible – though a few critics have complained that the ravishing footage on the end come at the cost of a gripping plot.

It’s certainly true that Dune makes even the complicated world of The Lord Of The Rings seem simplistic.

It takes place about 20,000 years in the future, when noble families rule planets as part of a feudal empire. At the beginning of the story, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) is sent to take over a desert planet.

Inhospitable, Arrakis is inhabited by a people called the Fremen – as well as huge and fearsome sandworms that swallow huge mining machines for breakfast.

While Arrakis sounds like the ultimate dead-end, it’s crucial that it’s the universe’s only source of ‘the spice’ – a mind-altering, body-altering drug that makes space travel possible.

Out of the treacherous desert sands, Dune’s characters say, ‘the spice must flow’: and it was always meant to parallel our own planet’s historical dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

Moreover, according to the ancient Fremen prophecy, one day a leader will arrive, free them from their barren planet and lead them to glory. Could this savior be Duke Leto’s teenage son, Paul Atreides (Chalamet)?

Amazingly, for a book many people have never heard of, Dune has sold 20 million copies and is regularly cited as the most beloved sci-fi book ever. But, unlike aficionados of The Lord Of The Rings, Star Trek, and Star Wars, hardcore Dune fans don’t show up in costumes at Dune mega conventions spewing Dune screams.

One reason for its popularity could be that it isn’t very “sci-fi” at all. It may be set in the distant future, but there are no robots or even computers in Dune. The story is more mystical than technological: a world where characters sometimes still fight with swords and daggers, and speak in almost Shakespearean language.

This welcome technophobia, coupled with the novel’s strong philosophical tone, was entirely intentional, as Herbert was fascinated by Zen Buddhism.

A new big-budget spectacle starring millennial pin-up Timothee Chalamet and directed by Oscar-nominated Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve is set to release in the UK next month

A new big-budget spectacle starring millennial pin-up Timothee Chalamet and directed by Oscar-nominated Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve is set to release in the UK next month

The inspiration for Dune came in 1957 when Herbert, then a journalist in Washington state, was sent to write about huge sand dunes in the neighboring state of Oregon. Astonished at their grandeur, he wrote to his literary agent that the moving dunes “could swallow whole cities, lakes, rivers, highways.”

Herbert was also influenced by TE Lawrence ‘of Arabia’, the messianic British army officer who led the Arabs in revolt against the Turks during World War I.

And he was inspired by the oil politics of the Middle East and the nascent environmental movement in 1960s America. As for ‘the spice’ – also called Melange in the book – Herbert drew on his fascination for consciousness-expanding psychedelic mushrooms.

However, he was most influenced by an obscure 1960 history book, The Sabers Of Paradise, by British author Lesley Blanch, about a 19th-century conflict in the Caucasus, say critics who didn’t accuse him of plagiarism. between Imperial Russia and Muslims.

Herbert worked on his novel for six years and, like JRR Tolkien, had trouble finding a publisher when he was finished.

“It’s entirely possible that we’re making the mistake of the decade,” said one who turned it down. The manuscript was eventually acquired by a company best known for publishing auto repair manuals.

It wasn’t an instant bestseller, but word of mouth and steadily increasing sales finally allowed Herbert to give up journalism and devote himself to writing five sequels of equal length between 1969 and 1985, the year before he died.

Too much sand?

Herbert’s son Brian certainly never would have thought that, as he and sci-fi writer Kevin Anderson have since created another 15 Dune prequels and sequels.

The film featured Lynch's signature striking imagery, but it was a mushy, kitschy mess and virtually incomprehensible to anyone who hadn't read the book.

The film featured Lynch’s signature striking imagery, but it was a mushy, kitschy mess and virtually incomprehensible to anyone who hadn’t read the book.

In 1973 the film rights were bought by a group of French directors at the behest of avant-garde writer and director Alejandro Jodorowsky.

He had hugely ambitious ideas for Dune – music by Pink Floyd and a cast that included Salvador Dali (in his debut film role), Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson and Mick Jagger.

But the project was crushed by its own grandeur. Jodorowsky’s script was so voluminous (“It was the size of a phone book,” Frank Herbert recalled) that the film should have been 14 hours long.

Meanwhile, Dali agreed to play Dune’s Emperor only if Jodorowsky paid him $100,000 an hour (about £450,000 today), while Welles only signed up when he was assured his favorite chef would be there to cook for him.

Unsurprisingly, the film had to be scrapped when no studios were willing to fund the film to the director’s specifications. Film mogul Dino De Laurentiis then took the reins and bought the film rights in 1979. He first turned to British director Ridley Scott, who had just had huge success with Alien.

Scott had thought his Dune would be in the form of Star Wars, but dropped out to direct 1982’s Blade Runner instead.

So De Laurentiis recruited David Lynch, another critically acclaimed but rather quirky director, to film Dune. His attempt was released in 1984 at least – although many wish it hadn’t been. In one particularly mind-boggling piece of casting, British pop singer Sting was chosen to play the villain, Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, dressed in a comedic suit.

The film featured Lynch’s signature striking imagery, but it was a mushy, kitschy mess and virtually incomprehensible to anyone who hadn’t read the book.

It had cost $45 million—a huge sum at the time—but it flopped. Critics were devastated and Lynch subsequently rejected the film.

This didn’t deter others: A 2000 TV miniseries won two Emmys — and in 2007, a group of Spanish students released a four-minute trailer for a fan-made version. However, the trailer was removed from YouTube at the behest of Frank Herbert’s estate, and the film was never released.

Paramount Pictures then spent several years trying to get a new Dune feature film off the ground, but again to no avail.

Finally, in 2016, Chinese Hollywood studio Legendary bought the rights and announced a deal with Villeneuve (with plans for a spin-off Dune TV series as well). Villeneuve has said he is determined that as many people as possible will watch it on the big screen rather than at home.

So, could this latest Dune, the rousing tale of a messiah leading his tribe to the promised land, be the film that ultimately leads us back to the cinema?

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